Thursday, February 18, 2016

Seduced by ‘the devil’ Hitler

There is a well-known story about the novelist Evelyn Waugh. He was once very rude and his hostess remonstrated: “How can you behave so badly – and you a Catholic!” Waugh replied: “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.” We remember this riposte both because it is redolent of Waugh’s mordant humour and because it reminds us that, without grace, we would all “hardly be a human being”.

But it is the shocked reaction to Waugh’s behaviour that interests me. His hostess had assumed a higher standard of behaviour on the part of Catholics than for others. This should be a chastening reminder. We boast of the holiness of the great saints of the Church, at the same time reminding those outside it that we are the historical Church founded by Christ himself. We should not be surprised when outsiders are scandalised when we lapse from grace. Like Waugh’s friend, they know, because we have told them so, that we have supernatural aids to help us do battle against the common vices of humanity. Thus when we fall their dismay is all the greater.

Seen in this light, the active complicity of men from a Catholic background in senior positions of authority during the Third Reich is particularly shameful, forcing one to ask the question: is there any truth to the allegations, often put forward by the Church’s critics, that Catholics were particularly vulnerable to fascist dictators such as Hitler because of their respect for hierarchy and authority, the Church’s emphasis on obedience, the horror felt towards atheistic communism and so on?

Although it should be emphasised that notorious public personalities, men such as Himmler, Goebbels, Heydrich, Frank, Streicher and Höss – as well as Hitler himself – had all long lapsed from the practice of their faith, one must reluctantly concede it is likely that, having rejected a powerful religious system such as Catholicism, they were particularly vulnerable to filling the void by embracing an alternative and false “faith”, equally demanding and potent.  (more...)

In these times, you don't need to leave the Church to harbour fascist ideals:

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